I’m excited to get the Purple Media Profiles back on track. Today we host former Wildcat wide receiver, Adam Paoli (#85), whose career (2001-2004) was plagued by injuries, yet he was the unofficial spirit leader of the Randy Walker era teams on which he played. Paoli, a Chicagoan from Whitney Young High School, has all kinds of peer props from former players I talked to as one of those guys who just knows how to get everyone up about NU football. So, when he was recently named president of Northwestern football’s booster club, NGN, it had many of his teammates fired up as yet another piece of NU football to get really excited about. Let’s get in to it…
LTP:I understand you played from 2001-2004 under Randy Walker. Some of your teammates have pinned you as the single most passionate guy in the program during that time. One went so far as to say his mom asked “Who is #85? he’s always standing on the benches revving up the crowd”. Tell us about the single most memorable moment in your NU football career.
AP: That statement is very humbling as there were a ton of passionate guys on our team. As I was often injured during my playing career, I found stirring up the crowd to be the best way I could contribute on game days! Momentum is everything in football, and I tried to do all I could to get our crowd into the game, IT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE on the field. I am also proud to say in the 2004 Illinois game I picked up a ‘tell’ from the back-up quarterback that helped our D-Line predict run or pass before the snap with 90% accuracy. I was hungry to help in any way possible!
The feeling I will never forget was the pure ecstasy that overcame our sideline in 2004 when beating the Buckeyes at home. Not to get all ‘Ray Lewis,’ but no one gave us a shot against the #6 team in the country. We were previously embarrassed at ‘The Shoe” in 2003, robbed at home in 2002, and given Coach Walker’s ties to Ohio that game had extra significance. Night games in Evanston are special, and the energy of the crowd and the fans rushing the field was a surreal experience.
LTP: Where were you on 1-1-13? Walk us through the emotions of that day.
AP: I am glad to say I was in Jacksonville for one of the proudest days of my life. Upon learning of the Gator Bowl choice of Northwestern to play Mississippi State I immediately booked my flight to be a part of history. The best way I can describe my emotions leading into the game was anxiety and nervousness. It was an interesting feeling to walk into a bowl game as a favorte and expecting a resounding victory. I believe we can win any game, but was concerned of the personal emotional ‘letdown’ of a loss as I was very confident we’d win this one.
Upon winning, my childlike enthusiasm got the best of me. It was clear that none of us had ‘been there before’ as Fitz referenced in his post-game speech, but it was something else he said that will stick in my mind forever. At the end of his speech, he said something to the tune of ‘And last I would like to thank all the young men and distinguished gentlemen who have ever worn the purple and white, this one is for you!’ I have never been more proud to be a Wildcat then that moment.
LTP: Which teammate of yours did you most admire during your time at NU and why?
AP: This is very difficult to answer as I have admiration for so many of my teammates. Current NU coach Ashton Aikens was like a big brother to me in the WR room while overcoming unbelievable adversity, Jason Wright makes me feel like less of a man when hearing about his generosity and selflessness, Luis Castillo has been incredibly successful on the field and will undoubtedly be more successful off the field, and Napoleon Harris will likely be president one day!
But, DURING my time at NU I admired Zak Kustok the most. Zak was obviously a gifted athlete, but more impressive is his character and intelligence. Zak was a charismatic, genuine leader who was easy to follow. He led by example and cared about each of his teammates. We only had one year of overlap, but I learned a lot about leadership, respect and composure from Zak.
LTP: I’m a huge fan of Zak as well, he’s just a great guy. What’s your favorite memory of Coach Walk? What impact did he have on you?
AP: As a player, it was very difficult to warm up to Coach Walk. He was not a ‘player’s coach’ by any stretch. He was demanding. He expected a lot of his players, and pushed us to become stronger both physically and mentally. At the time, like any child who is learning a lesson, I resented getting my butt kicked. However, upon entering the real world I gained appreciation for the valuable lessons I learned under his tutelage. My only regret is that I did not have much time to develop a relationship with Coach as a man after my playing days.
Coach Walk was known for his many ‘Walkerisms:’ unique quotes delivered by our beloved coach mostly during coaching moments. Most of them are too colorful for print, but my fondest memories are relived often as many of these quotes have permeated my daily vocabulary. When my teammates and I get together, it is impossible for much time to go by without at least one ‘Walkerism.’ A few family friendly examples:
– ‘SLIP ON YOUR OWN TIME!’ – Conditions did not matter, Coach Walker simply had no empathy for anyone who ever slipped or lost their footing, EVER. To this day it is instinctual to call this one out anytime someone trips, on or off the field.
– ‘YOU’RE NOT LATE, BUT YOU’RE LAST’ – Walk was known for his punctuality. One lesson I learned quickly was that every meeting started 10 minutes before scheduled. There were several young men who were chastised for arriving to a 12 meeting at 11:57. I will not conduct a training session in my office without calling out the last person to enter the room (and bless your heart if you are late).
– ‘I’M GREAT, HOW ARE YOU DOING?’ Coach Walk never had a bad day, or if he did you never knew about it. Even in defeat, Walker taught us to be incredibly grateful as we are truly blessed.
LTP: That’s just great stuff. What’s your perspective of the current state of the program? The talent level? How things have changed since your days?
AP: I have never been more excited for the future of our program. Our team is incredibly young, well coached, and more supported by the administration than ever before. Fitz is clearly a rock star. He is the single most motivating person I know, and anyone who plays for him is fortunate to have that experience. The support from the administration and University cannot be downplayed. The dark days of NUFB history are often tied to the lack of support from the administration at the time, and I have continued to be impressed with Dr. Phillips, President Schapiro and the staff they have placed around our team. The commitment to facility improvement is just one of many examples of this support.
Regarding talent, I may be slightly biased, but I argue that the 2004 team is perhaps the most talented team in NU history when you look at the amount of NFL players that team produced. That said, the most notable difference as we have achieved consistent success is our increased speed. Speed cannot be coached, and it is clear that increasing speed at every position has become a priority. I am glad that I played when I did because I was WAY slower than these guys!
LTP: The Northwestern Gridiron Network (NGN) has a pretty specific mission – “Since 1987 the NGN has been committed to funding the programs, equipment, facilities and technology that allow the NU football student-athlete to excel on and off the field in an environment second to none.” I’ve read that more than $1Million has been donated since its inception and it has provided everything from recruiting website funding to wall murals, video equipment and even a medical cart. What are the specific needs NGN is challenged with funding right now?
AP: Our mission is very clear: we support the program by giving it essential resources to remain competitive in the B1G landscape. I have heard it paraphrased as an ‘arms-race’ to have the best facilities, equipment, and resources to attract and develop student athletes. The most recent and ongoing requests come in technological necessities that seem to become a priority. However, like all technology they quickly become obsolete and therefore are in need of constant inprovement. Unfortunately, budgets don’t always catch up to such changes, and part of our goal is to make sure that our coaches and players have access to cutting edge technology and resources that to allow us to excel. Simply put our primary goal is to be on call for the program to provide immediate resources to supplement the athletic budget.
LTP: What do fans get for joining the NGN and what impact does it have?
AP: While prospective members can visit our site for a full membership brochure (NUSPORTS.COM/NGN coming soon!), the most important benefit available for NGN members is the unparalleled access to our football program. This access is ONLY available to our members. We have a full calendar of events that range from a Signing Day Party with the coaches, a summer auction with staff and former players, pre-game luncheons with Fitz and a handful of current players before select home games, and a golf outing with fellow ‘Cat fans and our coaches. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time around our program cannot help but notice the character and enthusiasm of our players and coaches. The NGN allows our members to get on the inside and experience this first hand.
The impact is clear – 100% of NGN funds raised go directly to supporting our football team. We are the only organization that supports football directly and exclusively. If you are passionate about the success of our football team, have a vested interest to see continued success and want access to the program with other Wildcat Football fanatics, this is the group to join.
Tying these last two questions together, after the Spring Game this year we will be holding a tour of our current practice facilities to show our members the direct impact of their support, with more exclusive tours for our higher levels. If you ever wanted to see the locker room, meetings rooms, practice areas and the enhancements the NGN has funded in each you will not want to miss this, and it will only be available to our members.
LTP: What do you see the future of the NGN holding considering the university is tackling the funding for the Ryan Fieldhouse project?
AP: Although the facilities expansion is incredibly exciting for many reasons, I do not envision the mission of he NGN to change one bit. We have funded many of the existing upgrades to our current practice facilities, and we will continue to support Fitz to do what we can to get into that facility as quickly as possible and provide the staff and players what they need to win a B1G championship. My personal mission is to grow the NGN to mirror the numbers in our fan base. By increasing base membership, the trickle down will result in the ability to provide much greater levels of support and have larger impact on our program.
LTP: What’s it cost to sign-up and where do fans go to jump on the NGN bus?
AP: There are several membership levels, each with different benefits and levels of access. The base level is $200 a year, with discounts for recent grads and current students, which gives you access to our full calendar of events.
As mentioned previously, we are introducing a new site on www.NUSports.com to coincide with our 2013 membership drive. This site will list our membership materials, calendar of events, benefits at each level and information on how to get more involved in a NGN sub-committee. It is currently being built and hope to have it up within the next few weeks!
In the meantime, you can visit us and get any questions answered through our social media presence:
Northwestern Gridiron Network – www.facebook.com/groups/NGNfootball
@NGN_insider – www.twitter.com/ngn_insider
Northwestern Gridiron Network
NU SPORTS – nusports.com/ngn
LTP: I heard the rage at the Gator Bowl was the NGN tailgate. Many people told me about it – the food was outrageous and the TV screens you had were also a huge hit. How can we replicate that kind of presence in the west lot or east lot on gameday?!!!
AP: The tailgate in Jacksonville was epic! It was a collaboration of the NGN, former players, and current player parents. Steve Kaiser (former player and former NGN President) has been know for his outstanding tailgates, and he teamed up with Hunter Bates’ mother Denise; they deserve all the credit for their hard work. It was the perfect place to prepare before the game, and definetly the place to be to celebrate a momentous victory after the game.
We are in talks about replicating that experience in Evanston. As many of the NGN members are diehard NUFB fans and have well established their own tailgating traditions, we are debating any move that would rock that apple cart. I will take your request into consideration, and am curious to see if your followers will provide feedback for or against that idea!
That said, we have dedicated ourselves to maintaining a tailgating presence at football games/events other than regular season gamedays. You can anticipate a tailgate in Kenosha for the annual scrimmage, perhaps after the Spring Game, and without question at our next bowl game. I hope to host you at our tailgate on 1/1/14 in Pasadena!
LTP: Thanks Adam. I appreciate the time and we as a community are here to support you and NGN in any way we can.